Puppet on a Chain (1971)

While I liked the book Puppet on a Chain, I felt that the plot (especially the bad guys' scheme) wastoo convoluted (see my review). The movie script largely avoided this pitfall by being cut to a mere 97 minutes. The drug-dealers' scheme was still a mite too complex, but I was pleasantly surprised by how deftly Alistair MacLean (who wrote the screenplay from his own book) shortened the tale while still preserving its most vital elements. The main evildoers are accurately portrayed in the movie, and if you haven't read the book, you won't guess the ringleader's identity until the denouement. It's also nice to see some scenes closely match MacLean's original vision, such as protagonist Paul Sherman being tortured by amplified clock chimes (and escaping by the same method as in the book).

Of course, the film shows its age, and some of its early-'70s aspects feel trite. But it doesn't sink into the outright cheesiness that often afflicted other film adaptations of MacLean's novels. While some storylines are changed and/or added on, the new material is sensible, not a bunch of ill-fitting scenes cobbled onto the original plot. Even a wholly invented speedboat chase is well designed and feels natural.

One welcome reduction is that Sherman gets only one female underling, rather than the pair of largely senseless beauties described by Maclean. Their behavior was a glaring weakness of the novel, so it was nice to see one missing and the other acting a bit more professional.

The no-name group of actors is competent, if not outstanding. The biggest "name" is Barbara Parkins, who was in countless TV series and such movies as Peyton Place; here, she's Sherman's female accomplice. Sherman is portrayed sensibly by a Swedish actor named Sven-Bertil Taube, who is still acting in current movies such as The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. If anything, he is too handsome (the book's Sherman was scarred by plastic surgery) and too American (rather than being a British Interpol agent). Another quibble: since nearly all the characters are supposed to be Dutch, it's a mystery why quite a few of them speak in a "veddy British" way.

The movie Puppet on a Chain isn't great cinema; I didn't need to research whether it got any Oscar nominations. However, it holds up well as an early-'70s adventure film, and it should satisfy a MacLean fan who isn't offended by any little plot changes. I might not even call it "good," but it's surprisingly not-bad. Check it out if you can.


(7 out of 10)